30 June 2015


D&D Satellite: Socially Engaged Practice - What Would Happen If Art Was At The Centre Of Civic Life?


Clare Theatre, The Young Vic, 66 The Cut, London SE1 8LZ


Top of Form

Artists Ella Good and Nicki Kent's current project involves them spending the next ten years following a group of people who are aspiring to be some of the first people to colonise Mars. They're at the very start of their project and they've traveled all over the country, meeting people like you, like me, like our neighbours, and invited them to get as close to outer space as possible by launching a video camera into the skies. Similarly Leo Burtin has been making work that talks directly to its audience in ways that are personal and informal, asking them to share food, experiences, and conversation.

Both of these works can be referred to as socially engaged practice. Ella Good, Nicki Kent and Leo Burtin have been meeting and discussing their work together over the last year, talking about how it is hard to define what socially engaged practice is.

The definition proposed by Interactions Performance might be a useful starting point:
“In an arts context, socially-engaged practice, can be understood loosely to fit into one or more of these descriptions:
- Engages audiences beyond the arts institution (i.e. theatres/galleries) in social spaces or contexts
- Takes the social as its subject or modus operandi
- Asks what society or ‘the social’ may mean
- Forges alliances directly with communities defined by place or by interest / experience / knowledge
- Directly engages with non-artists to produce art-works”

Socially engaged artists spend much of our time, having big, complex conversations with complete strangers, often with people who might think art is not for them. 

None of us studied socially engaged practice, and we can’t even think of a course that focuses just on this kind of work.  As artists with backgrounds in theatre, our practices have evolved, and are increasingly blurring the boundaries between art and life. We came to making the work we are from wanting to explore ways of making that are process led, that don’t focus on an end product, and from thinking about how artists can truly make art for everyone. We want to make a case for art to take place, not separate from life, not on the edge of life, but in the center of it all.  

Working in this way is as rewarding as it is challenging.  In contrast to its accessible nature socially engaged practice is one of the hardest to describe. People are often concerned with form, asking is it for a picture or a performance or film. It's hard to pin down and show when the art is actually happening. We’d like to share some of our questions and challenges with other artists working in the same way:

How can we sustain practices, which by nature, do not often fit existing frameworks and structures?

How can we better define what our practices are when they are not tied to one easily describable form?

How can we articulate the value of process-led artworks?

Who are our allies, within the arts institutions and outside?

Socially engaged practice is at a slow, but significant turning point. At a time where arts institutions are under pressure to meet ever more targets and objectives, we choose to create work that is slow and that cannot easily become a commodity. This work is porous, fluid, and we know that we aren’t alone in our struggle to make a case for the kind of practice whose value isn’t always immediately obvious, or easily articulated. 

This is why we’d like to invite you to join us on 30th June 2015, at the Young Vic to talk about how we can tackle the challenges and embrace the opportunities of making socially engaged work, and what the future might hold for us. We hope to see you there.

Ella Good, Nicki Kent and Leo Burtin

Booking for this event has now closed.